Sunday, 30 June 2013

Pesachim 9a, b

Some fascinating ideas today about searching for leaven.  Instead of focusing on the halacha, I'd like to focus in on some sociological realities around miscarriage and stillbirth.

Because the rabbis are concerned about a small animal carrying leaven from house to house, they discuss stillbirths.  Really? Stillbirths?  Yes, because a small animal would definitely drag a stillbirth from its burial sites within the homes of gentiles.  The rabbis seem to be suggesting that burying one's miscarried fetus in the floor is a normal practice for gentiles (but not for jews, because contact with a corpse imparts ritual impurity).**    All of this speaks to notions of life and death, the "when does life begin" debate, death rites/rituals re:stillbirth, miscarriage and abortion, and ideas about "the other".  

Now the rabbis look at a hermeneutic principal as it applies to the halacha on searching for leaven: does a certainty carry more weight than an uncertainty?  How do we weigh a certainty against another certainty?  To examine this idea, we are reminded of a violent person's maidservant who threw a stillborn baby into a pit in Rimon.  A priest looked into the pit to identify whether the baby was a boy or a girl -- which would determine the birth mother's required status of ritual impurity (7 days after the birth of a boy and 14 days after the birth of a girl).  This circumstance is used to demonstrate competing uncertainties: did the maidservant actually throw the stillborn into a pit?  What would a small animal do if the stillborn was found? How would that affect the status of a priest who looked over and into the pit?  The questions go on and on.

The end of today's daf takes this debate around un/certainty and applies it to the search for leaven.  What if we aren't sure whether or not a mouse has taken leaven into a home otherwise free from leaven?  The rabbis turn examples upside down to fully understand the risks of ruling leniently even though these uncertainties exist. In the end, we are reminded that we should be lenient in cases of uncertainty when ruling on rabbinic halacha.  Thus when all else is equal, yet we are 50-50 regarding whether we have missed one item of leaven -- we are allowed to claim that our home is halachically ready for Pesach.

I wish that my Bubby knew that ruling.  The cleaning and organizing that she would do in preparation for Pesach was exhausting just to think about. One year, in preparing for Pesach, she was cleaning the floor and walls of a closet.  In the effort of that work, she suffered a stroke.  Part of me is angry that she went to such lengths to keep halacha.  On the other hand, part of me feels angry with myself for not being the one to wash the inside of her closet for her.  She probably would not have let me - both because she hated to accept help and because she would have been unsure that I would do a good-enough job.  It was in my power to offer, though.  That stroke was the beginning of her decline.  And the loss of my Bubby was a loss to me but also a loss to the world.

So in one daf, we are presented with two anecdotes about stillbirths.  And not just about stillbirths, but about how to dispose of stillbirths.  What I take from this is that it was commonplace to have miscarriages and stillborn babies.  People had to have some sort of ritual around that loss, but not necessarily a religious ritual.  However, every action affects other religious rituals.  So what was the ritual, in Jewish homes, when a woman miscarried? When a baby was born without a heartbeat?  I am hoping that I will learn more through these texts.  And even though the texts are based on the lives of the authors, who were obviously men, women's lives were part of their lives.  Thus we will learn something about women's lives as well.

** and from today's daf we learn that until 40 days after conception, a miscarriage is not considered to be a stillbirth and does not impart ritual impurity as it is not yet 'developed'.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Pesachim 7a, b

While today's daf is focused on the search for leaven: when, how, why, I am going to highlight some of the side-conversations that surround this debate.

  • To become betrothed, men give their brides-to-be kernels of wheat.  
  • Kurdanaita are mountains.
  • Kurdanaita are also very hard wheat kernels named either for their geographic origin (the Kurdistan mountains) or for their "hard as rocks", ie. mountainous density.
  • Second-tithe is a tenth of the produce left over after terumah has been given to the priests and the first tithe (tenth) has been given to the Levites.
  • Second-tithe is to be brought to Jerusalem to be traded for food.
  • If second-tithe becomes ritually impure en route to Jerusalem, is can be redeemed for money (plus 1/5 more if some cases) that is to be spent only on food in Jerusalem.
  • We can determine whether or not a loaf is kosher for pesach based on the amount of mould growing on it.
  • There are methods to determine whether coins are sacred (tithed money) or not especially when found in a box that also holds non-sacred coins.
  • The rabbis attempt to assign a formula to when a blessing says "has commanded us to ___" and when a blessing says "has commanded us concerning ____".
  • It doesn't work.
  • Blessings are stated immediately in advance of a mitzvah (Rav Yehuda said that Shmuel said so).
  • "Overe", meaning "before" (priority-wise), is the word that proves this principle through varied examples.
  • "Kodem" also means "before", but the rabbis believe that kodem is not used here as it would refer to a more distant previous time.
  • Immersion in the mikvah is the only mitzvah that requires a blessing after the mitzvah.
  • The immersion blessing is said after the immersion to ensure that the immersion is done properly before the action is blessed.
  • The words "searching" and "finding" are juxtaposed in the search for leaven just as they are juxtaposed in the "searching" and "finding" in Benjamin's bag at the palace in Egypt.
  • The rabbis argue about the search for leaven with a lamp: does it signify a search only for large sins? 
  • Based on this conversation, we are to use only one lamp - not a torch and not the sun (except by a window) - to search for leaven

Needless to say, this is not an exhaustive list of the conversations of daf 7.  In fact, it is not even a comprehensive summary of those points themselves.  The level of depth and richness - even on just the pshat, or the basic level, is vast.  I could learn one daf full time for weeks.  Every letter of every word is placed with intention.  And the connections in time and in place and in concept - it is mindblowing.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Pesachim 6a, b

Alright, the honeymoon is over.  

I found 6a quite confusing - really, it's over my head. I'll do my best to share some of the basics.

Rava answers a dilemma about the royal tax, arnona, and the obligation to give the firstborn animals to the priests.  First of all, I'm pretty sure that Israelis pay that tax, arnona, today.  Am I right?  I remember learning that we should always factor in the cost of arnona when looking to rent an apartment in Israel.  

My assumption is that the dilemma regards conflicting obligations: do we give to the state (tax) or do we give to our religious obligation (priests)?  The text tells us that the animal might be owned together by a jew and a Gentile - if a Jew alone owned the animal, would he not have to pay the royal tax?  I am certain that I'm missing too much information to truly understand the complexity of this discussion.

The dilemma continues with a comparison: what if challa belongs to a Gentile and a jew together and it is brought to a Jew's residence (regarding the laws of Pesach)?  Some really interesting ideas: creating a room where the dough cannot be seen, building 10-handbreadth barriers around the dough so that it will not be a temptation... 

We learn, as an aside, that the rabbis argue about whether or not Jews are even allowed to rent to Gentiles at all.  The argument against this living arrangement is that Gentiles might bring idols into a Jewish residence.  Steinsaltz tells us that in Israel, Jews can only rent storage spaces  or stable to Gentiles for this reason.  However, in the diaspora, we are allowed to rent to Gentiles IF Jews do not live there as well.  And this leniency is due to the fact that most Gentiles do not worship idols in modern times.

There are so many ways that this interpretation offends my sensibilities that I'm not sure I even want to begin...  However, I will state for the record that we Jews have much to learn about living with 'the stranger in our midst'.  I can't argue about what was done 2000 years ago, as the context was so vastly different.  But today, the idea that we cannot rent residences to Gentiles if we live there as well is potentially damaging, hurtful and unnecessary.  But I digress.

The rabbis discuss how we should deal with leaven if we find it after the search.  They also discuss what to do if we travel over Pesach.  These issues are extremely pertinent today; I am sure that 'kosher travel' over Pesach is an extremely lucrative business today.  

The rabbis discuss whether a 30 day period (or a two week period, or something else) is dedicated to the study of halacha before the onset of Pesach based on Moses' teaching the children of Israel about the laws of Pesach in the desert.  The rabbis begin a discussion of the calendar, which is a conundrum to me, beginning with two different first months and a Pesach that occurs only one month after the first Pesach.  

Rav Menashia bar Tachlifa raises a fascinating point in the name of Rav: time is not clear and chronological in the Torah, and thus we cannot use reports about Moses' time as indicators of 'real' time.  The response is interesting, too: when we are looking at separate matters, it is true that time is not consecutive in the Torah.  But when learning about one narrative (my word), time is indeed consecutive.  The proof is discussed at some length.  One of the basic ways of understanding Torah is through hermeneutic principles.  One is that we derive meaning through patterns, for example a generalization followed by a detail - this tells us that that the generalization refers only to what is spoken of in the detail.  If consecutive time is always in flux, then our hermeneutic principals make no sense.  

Today's daf ends with another great anecdote.  We are told that a person will guard their field for their figs until the figs are finished; at that point they will guard the grapes until they are done, followed by the cucumbers, etc. etc.  When an owner is particular about a posesssion, he can guard that possession.  If it is stolen, the crime is that of robbery.  But once a possession holds no importance to the owner, people are free to take that possession without being charged with the crime of robbery.  Thus the figs left on the tree are up for grabs, but the grapes cannot be taken until they have lost their value to the owner. 

In this way we learn that possession is about value.  When a person values a pit, even though that pit is in the public domain, he is responsible for that pit.  Even though he has no official ownership of the pit, he is obligated to care for it.  This concept is used to explain how we nullify leaven - our rituals help us diminish the importance of leaven to discourage our interest, and thus our responsibility.

One way of building community is ensuring that individuals feels responsible for the 'common'.  Our neighbourhood dog park, for example, is important to me.  I visit it and use it frequently.  If something goes wrong in that park, it should be my responsibility to make it right.  According to this teaching, even though I do not own the park, its value to me should determine whether or not it is my responsibility.  

These Talmudic lessons reach so much further than simple words on a page...

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Pesachim 5a, b

Today's daf reminds me of Berachot, the first masechet in the daf yomi cycle.  Engaging, exciting, filled with references to halachot that are current still today. The rabbis use one or two words - sometimes even one or two letters - to create meaning out of the Torah text.  In today's daf, we learn about verbal analogy (gezeyrah shavah), that the Torah does not use extra words (im eino inyan), Hebrew aleph-bet calculation of alef-chet-samech, bet-chet-ayin.  These exegetical analyses are commonplace and understood.

I remember learning briefly with an orthodox rabbi while I was doing my Master's degree.  He began conversation with me about a Torah verse as if I understood these basic principles.  "What are we learning about here?" he asked me.  I was lost.  I suggested something simple, something that felt stupid. "If a word is repeated," he explained, "there must be a reason.  What could be the reason that this word was repeated?"  OH.  I got it.  But how in the world would I have known that rule?  And how many other similar rules might exist?  I very quickly ended that learning, one of many times that I stopped learning because I did not already understand.

Today's daf has the rabbis looking for connections between the removal of chametz, the burning of leaven, the prohibition on eating leaven, and the eating of matza.  Also they examine possible connections between the days of Pesach, the days of the week, and the days of Sukkot.  The number seven is ubiquitous.  So is the idea of intermediate days, or work days, and "the first day" yom rishon or "the day before".  

The notion of burning is examined, as these words could be a proof that lighting a fire is one of the 39 prohibited categories of labour on Shabbat.  Lechalek yatzat, being singled out to divide -- could it be that this prohibition is different from the other 39? It carries a different punishment, and it is the only prohibition derived by something other than the construction of the mishkan.

Our Sages end the daf with a longer conversation about leaven, which shall not be seen or found in your home: "Seven days leaven shall not be found in your homes" (Exodus 12:19) and "no leaven shall be seen with you, neither shall there be leavened bread seen with you, in all your borders" (Exodus 13:7).   Some questions: what is the difference between seeing and finding?  Can leaven be covered up?  What if we see the leaven of a gentile who is one's employee?  What if he is one's slave?  Our homes - what about our pits, ditches and caves?  And what is that repetition for?  Perhaps this is about gentiles who have lent their leaven to Jews.  Or not.

Finally, the rabbis shift their conversation to money and objects that are worth money.  But more of that conversation will is forthcoming... tomorrow.

Every ritual, every halacha that I have learned, all of these things that I have assumed were custom rather than rabbinical halachot - they have been discussed, turned upside down, shaken, put back together again, and then learned as law.  I am floored by the depth with which these halachot have been examined.  And I am so privileged to have access to the actual assembling of my own traditions. 

Monday, 24 June 2013

Pesachim 4a, b

Pesachim is a treat, I tell you!  So much to chew on.  But I never take the time to really delve in... this daf yomi process is both a gift and a curse.  Like trying to drink water from a firehose, my partner continually reminds me.

We continue with the larger question of 'or': does it refer to the evening? if so, why?  And today we move on to the search for leaven, bedikat chametz.

We begin with another example of speaking of death euphemistically as done by Rabbi Chiyya.  Rabbi Chiyya's response to learning that he should have been in mourning for his parents results in learning three halachot: 
1) we mourn for only one day and not seven if we learn of a significant death after the shiva period; 
2) one day can translate to any portion of one day; 
3) we remove our shoes when we are in mourning.  

The relatives who died were also relatives (likely) of Rav, and we learn Rav's geneaology.  His parents were step-siblings: Rav's father was Aveyhu (Abba) and his mother was Imma.  They had different mothers. Abba's father was Imma's step-father.  

We like to pretend that the 'nuclear family' is a historically based, static, stable and reliable institution.  Not so much.

The Gemara briefly discusses one man's expression regarding judgement and another man's comment on cypresses by the sea as natural evidence of their geneaology: the tribe of Dan begets people who speak about judges so; the tribe of Zebulun "shall dwell by the seashore". 

Looking at the search for leaven, the Gemara considers which time of day is most appropriate for the search.  Like circumcision, should it should be done first thing in the morning within a window of sanctified time?  ie. Let's hurry to do the mitzvah early in the day!  Also, Abraham rose to kill his son Isaac - to fulfil a mitzvah - bright and early, so that sets a precedent, too.  But Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak reminds us that people are home in the evening, and that lamplight works best for assisting with evening searches.  Thus, the Gemara concludes, the bedikat chametz should happen in the evening, and Torah scholars should be careful not to miss the mitzvah of the search because they began their work too late in the day. 

The Gemara turns to the issue home ownership.  Who is responsible for ensuring that leaven has been removed from the home?  What if the home is occupied on the 14th of Nissan?  This turns into a conversation about legal witnesses.  If a woman, a minor or a slave tell witness that the house is free of leaven, are they believed?  Many rabbis tell us that for purposes of rabbinic law, the word of a least a woman and possibly a minor (perhaps a minor who has been trained in the observance of mitzvot) should be understood as valid.  Rosh stands out as a Sage who tells us that women can never act as legal witnesses, even in matters of Rabbinic law.

I want to read more about Rosh.  I want to know more about the personalities of our Sages, and how they felt about women holding positions of power.  I want to understand how our tradition became one so diluted by patriarchal analysis that we must learn how to swim before we can speak.  But I digress.

In the end, it is agreed that leaven is prohibited from the sixth hour of the day onward.  Some believe that it should be burned at the fifth hour and some believe that it should be burned slightly later.

The last thought of today's daf is quite interesting.  We learn in Exodus that for "seven days, leaven shall not be found in your houses".   In another verse, we learn that "... on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses."  How can both be true?  The Gemara tells us that the "first day" includes the 14th of Nissan and not to the 15th of Nissan which is the actual start of the chag.  

The Gemara begins to explore this further but immediately jumps to tomorrow's daf, and so I'll end here.

These are the types of questions that I have asked myself for as long as I can remember. Why do we stop eating chametz at a particular time and day?  How can we hold the last crumbs of chametz in a spoon - where do we put the chametzdik utensil?  Why is it alright for women to be obligated to some mitzvot but not to most?  

I see that the rabbis asked the same questions, that they disagreed about the answers, and that they respected the tradition of asking.  I wish that I had had access to Talmudic learning when I was young.  It opens the mind to multiple viewpoints and addresses the unrelenting "whys". 

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Pesachim 3a, b

So many fascinating points in one daf!  Note that today's daf continues yesterday's discussion about the use of the word 'or', usually defined as 'light' likely to mean 'evening' in our first mishna of Pesachim.

In a Torah verse we learn that women who miscarry on the 'or' of the 81st day following another birth should bring a second offering to the Temple.  Women who miscarry after a birth but before the 81st day do not have to bring another offering as that miscarriage is considered to be connected to the previous birth.  

Apparently we will be examining these laws in detail in Kittin and Niddah, but we are offered a bit of a preview in Pesachim.  The concepts of ritual purity and impurity - so different from the concept of cleanliness - is one that I look forward to understanding better.  Although it challenges my feminist kop to look at the unanalyzed application of tamei and tahor, I am intrigued and excited to learn more.

And speaking of what is ritually impure the rabbis offer another example that uses a zav and a zava to illustrate that 'or' may be used as a euphemism.  Women are not permitted to ride camels or donkeys as riding is immodest.  However, there are numerous references to women riding (including Abigail, Rebecca and Moses' wife).  Is 'riding' a euphemism for 'sitting'?  We learn that rabbis discourage the use of euphemisms in the name of clarity and brevity.  However, they simultaneously encourage euphemistic speech to maintain dignity, for example when referring to laws pertaining to a zav or zava.  

We are given the example of instructions regarding when we are to eat certain offerings - on the second or third day - how does the use of the word 'or' help us define the intended times?  And, as an aside, this surprised me.  I did not realize that offerings were actually eaten.  Somehow I believed that they were burned, or eaten by others, or in some other way disposed of.  

Pesachim 3b ends with a number of fabulous stories about the use of speech for good and for bad.  The first story is about two students who told their teacher Rav that they were so tired (or filled up, or overwhelmed: mesankan) that they were like pigs.  Rav did not speak to the student who said that word; it is assumed that a student who would speak in such a manner shows poor character.  It is difficult to even imagine living in such different circumstances from mine.

Another story tells of students who spoke with their rabbi about why one is permitted to harvest olives but not grapes in a state of ritual impurity. One of the students understood that olive juice is not sanctified and will not contract impurity.  However, the juice of grapes could be made into wine and thus should be guarded.

The next tale tells of three priests in the Temple comparing their shares of bread. One says that he received a share the size of a bean, the next the size of an olive bulk.  The third priest sadi that his was the size of a lizard's tail.  That priest's lineage was examined and a shemetz (trace) of disqualification was found.  Others suggest that the priest had a shemetz of arrogance, and that he tainted his own lineage which resulted in his disqualification from the priesthood.

Our next story tells of a gentile who brags that he makes the pilgrimage to Jerusalem along with the Jews and that he eats of the sanctified food even though he is not Jewish. Reb Yehuda Ben Beteira tricks him with words, suggesting that he ask for the fat tail of the lamb on his next voyage, as that is the best meat.  However, when he does this, he arouses suspicion in the Jews as that meat is forbidden; it is burned on the altar.  The Jews figure out this gentile's ruse and they kill him.  Rabbis comment on this unnecessary violence: it is the responsibility of the Jews and not of the gentile; the jews and not the gentile should be consequenced.  Rav Kook suggests that this extraordinary action was taken because G-d's name was desecrated.  What I wonder is why we have to defend the actions of our ancestors.  Perhaps they just made a mistake. 

Finally, we are told that Rabbi Yehoshua rent his clothes and turned them backward sot that the tear would not be seen; he denied that he was crying because of the death of Rav Kehuna.  All of this because one should not be the bearer or bad news.  It is reasonable to use one's speech euphemistically in order to lighten the burden of hearing unwanted information.

So much new information (new!) is overwhelming for me; lots to think about and digest.  So far, Pesachim is a treat!

Pesachim 2a, b

We begin Masechet Pesachim with a mishna that teaches two ideas.  The first is that we are to search for leavened bread on a certain day and time with candlelight to guide us.  The second is a debate between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel regarding how to search for that leavened bread when near barrels of wine.

Much of the daf is devoted to the word 'or'.  'Or' usually means 'light', and in this context it refers to the time of day when we search for leaven by candlelight.  In this circumstance the rabbis are curious.  Why would we define 'or' as evening, as is the tradition?  The rabbis suggest many many literary, logical, reasoned, and poetic interpretations and possible meanings of 'or'.

It is a change for me to be learning about something that is so relevant and meaningful in my own religious practice.  Throughout masechet eiruvin, I found it difficult to stay engaged with topics that we beyond esoteric... as I do not keep the halacha regarding eruvin, even those conversations that made sense to me were removed from my experience.

This first daf of pesachim brings me into a discussion that I might participate in if given the opportunity.  How could 'or' mean 'light' in this context?  I know that the halacha is 'evening', and not 'light'.  We search for leavened bread every year by candlelight.  I am actually learning about how that practice came to be.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Eiruvin 104a, b

The end of Masechet Eiruvin caught up with me unaware - I had thought that I had at least another week of learning before beginning Pesachim!  

I should have been readied by the air in the room as I read.  It has felt for days as if the rabbis are hurriedly adding information about Shabbat halachot, regardless of their connections with the halachot of eiruvin.  Today was a great example.

The rabbis debate about whether or not salt creates an imposition between the priests' feet and the ramp that they ascend in the Temple.  Salt would help the priests not to fall, and a mishna suggests that salt be used in this way.  The rabbis are not so certain. They also remind us that this halacha regards the Temple only, and not other parts of the land.

That same mishna tells us to collect water from a particular well on Shabbat.  The rabbis look at the different cisterns and wells, the systems of retrieving water, and the possible prohibitions regarding collecting water at all.  A diagram offered in the Koren translation is intriguing - it shows where the cistern is placed.  Close by is the residence of the Sanhedrin - did they live in the Temple?  What about their families?  I am wanting to learn more about the lives of thsoe who maintained and created holiness in the Temple.

Moving into the realm of sound and song, the Gemara tells us about the prohibition of music, melody or intentional rhythm - even when knocking on a door - on Shabbat.  This answers my previous question regarding mending the string of an instrument on Shabbat (but does not answer why that task could not wait until after Shabbat if instrumental music was prohibited).  We learn about games played by women - women! - Including a game with nuts that fall on a ramp and bump into each other and a similar game using apples.  The prohibition is not the sound, in fact, but the possibility of creating holes in the ground that might be filled in. 

Daf 104 ends on a lovely note.  We look at the rules regarding the carcass of a creeping animal. Of course, it is prohibited to bring such a thing into the Temple.  But if it was found in the Temple, what shoudl be one?  The rabbis discuss this for some time.  They move into the realm of impurity, first and second degree.  I find these particulra concepts confusing, as I do not possess the basic understanding of the nature of impurity.   However, examples like those in today's daf will help me to gras these concepts more fully.  

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Eiruvin 103a, b

Another daf that seems more like "tying up loose ends" than like an examination of eiruvin.  At the start of today's daf, the rabbis continue their conversation about tying the broken strings of musical instruments on Shabbat.  They consider tying strings in bows in the middle of the string, which would not enhance Shabbat through performing the mitzvah of adding music.  Which, again, leads me to wonder about how halacha may have changed with regard to playing musical instruments on Shabbat.

A new mishna brings us to the topic of priests with warts.  If they are in the Temple, priest cannot do their duties with warts.  So can the warts be removed? If so, should this be done by hand or with the aid of an instrument?  Does it matter if the wart is moist or dry, as we know that removing dead skin is permitted? And should it be done by the priest himself or by a colleague?  One of the more disgusting things I've read in Eiruvin - and there have been quite a few - is the conversation in today's daf that considers whether or not a priest can remove another priest's wart with his teeth.  Yes, with his teeth.  I won't elaborate.

I am noticing a number a distinctions between what is allowed in the land, in other places, and in the Temple.  I am assuming that the rabbis are not referring to "the synagogue", where one is on each corner, but to "THE Temple".  And because the Temple was destroyed by the time that most of these conversations occurred, I will further assume that many of these comments are with regard not to the past experiences in the Temple.  Instead I am imagining that they are referring to rituals that will take place in the Temple when it is rebuilt.  

But I could be off about all of this.

Rabbi Eliezer is the Sage who teaches that preparation for a mitzvah overrides the prohibitions of Shabbat.  However, to emphasize that Shabbat is different from other days, we will "alter the manner in which a procedure is performed" both to avoid Torah prohibitions and to emphasize that the day is Shabbat.

In another Mishna, we learn more about wounds and bandages. If a priest has a wound on his finger, he is allowed to cover it with a reed - but not to stop the flow of blood or to heal the wound, both of which are prohibited on Shabbat.  Instead, the reed acts as a block between sancitfied objects and the wound.  The rabbis argue about using a very small cloth - three fingerbreadths by three fingerbreadths - to do the same job as the reed.  But is the cloth like adding a layer of clothing to the priestly garments?  or is it a block between the priest's own body and the larger environment?

To be a priest would allow the time and space to truly think about more esoteric, ephemeral and existential realities.  Must my body be connected to the air and the clothing surrounding it?  The notion of ritual purity would be of incredible importance at all times.  And what a lofty, difficult concept!  We are continually in the process of destroying our pure state... the moment one exits the mikvah and dresses, one returns to the world of material, base, impure, real life.  How might one live when that ritual purity is all-important to every moment of one's day?

The concept of ritual purity, cleanliness, connectedness - whatever we want to call it - is challenging and contradictory to say the least.  Hopefully I will explore that in much greater detail over this path of learning!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Eiruvin 102a, b

It is beginning to seem as though the rabbis are desperate to discuss matters related to Shabbat and not directly to eiruvin.  Today we move through a number of divergent discussions: whether or not and how one may be prohibited from using a bolt as a door locking mechanism, adjust a door hinge, adjust or rearrange a tent, adjust or rearrange a bridal canopy, wear a felt hat with a rim more/less than one handbreadth, remove or replace a bandage, clean a wound under a bandage, and retie a harp string while in the Temple on Shabbat.

Each of these questions is considered carefully, drawing in knowledge about related baraitot, mishnaot and practices in different places and times.  To understand the discussions we must be aware of laws regarding categories of what is prohibited on Shabbat -- for example, one may clean a wound but one may not clean the bandage itself.  This would involve spreading the ointment on the bandage, and spreading is a sub-category of smoothing.  Smoothing is one of the categories of actions prohibited on Shabbat.

A number of times the rabbis refer to practices that are permitted in the Temple but not in other parts of the country.  My understanding is that the Temple was destroyed long before the Talmud was codified. Does that mean that we are not allowed to do these things at all in modern times, as there is no Temple?  For example, 102b tells us that the broken string of a harp can be repaired by tying a bow (rather than a knot) in the string but only when in the Temple.  Making music in the Temple was a mitzvah, we are told.  Are the rabbis referring to making music in the Temple on Shabbat?  I had assumed that instrumental music was never part of orthodox Jewish practice.  In modern times, reform and reconstructionist services often enhance tefilot with instruments.  Perhaps this practice was taken ancient times...?

Monday, 17 June 2013

Eiruvin 101a, b

We move back to the rabbis’ conversations about eiruvin.  Daf 101 offered fascinating respite from the technical details of this masechet.  Daf 102 is concerned with a new mishna that introduces the ideas of doors and locks. 

In order for doors to close off openings in the rear court on Shabbat, the door must be ‘real’ and not a wooden board without hinges, bundles of thorns, reed mats.  However, if these are completely off of the floor, they may be closed as real doors.

The gemara looks at whether or not a baraita was referring to doors that once had hinges or doors that never had hinges.  It discusses the concept of a “widowed door”, which is one that either belonged to a widow and was in disrepair, or one that is missing a significant part of its structure.  Interesting choice of euphemisms, a widowed door – in both cases, the door is lacking. 

After looking at the idea of “not touching the floor”, the rabbis mention laws regarding stacking wood for fire, eggs, or other tasks that could be understood as acts of building.  On Shabbat, these tasks must be completed from top to bottom, where the top log/egg/etc. must be suspended in the air; placed first, while the lower layres are placed next.  Why?  Because this avoids the act of building, which is not allowed on Shabbat.

A short anecdote telling us of a heretic: Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya is called a “man of thorns… the best of them is as a brier” (Micah 7:4); even the best scholar is a thorn.  He is rebutted, however, where the end of the verse suggests that thorns are positive, as they can grind what is wrong or bad into something good. 

A new mishna opens the topic of opening a door in one domain while in a different domain.  The rabbis consider the city of Jerusalem before its walls were breached.  They note that because the doors were locked at night, it may have been considered a public domain and thus carrying was allowed on Shabbat.  Then again, it may have been considered a karmelit.  I am not clear whether the rabbis are telling us that carrying was allowed or that carrying was not allowed. 

The rabbis note the importance of the height of a lock is above or below ten handbreadths.  They consider where one is allowed to place a key so as not to carry the key on Shabbat, but to use it – potentially to move from one domain to another. 

The daf ends with another new mishna, this time regarding a bolt that locks a door and whether the bolt might be considered either a vessel or a utensil. These classifications would suggest whether or not the bolt was permitted for use on Shabbat.  The rabbis note that as long as the bolt is attached to and part of the larger door, its use is permitted on Shabbat.

Today’s daf offers a number of examples of ‘tough to follow’ arguments.  Because I am missing so many of the basic concepts that are considered to be common knowledge (for example, the prohibition on building on Shabbat or the meaning of the word ‘utensil’), I am certain to miss much of the intention of the daf.  However, the logic stands, the personalities are fascinating, and the development of halacha from baraitot/mishnaot is riveting.  So I manage to stick with the learning for now.  

Eiruvin 100a, b

Today was the day that I have been waiting for.  After months of patiently (or not so patiently) working through painfully difficult conversations about the whys and hows of the halachot of eiruvin, I came to a discussion about something absolutely riveting.  

Dutifully, I will cover briefly the start of the daf.  We learn about the prohibitions regarding the use of trees on Shabbat.  We cannot climb them, sit in them, lean on them, or otherwise use them (I wondered to myself about whether or not we are permitted to use the shadow of a tree on Shabbat!).  This is actually a fence built around the prohibitions regarding picking fruit and cutting branches on Shabbat.  The rabbis engaged in detailed debates about climbing trees before Shabbat - is s/he allowed to climb back down? If so, when?  And on...

The rabbis continue, speaking about whether or not walking on grass on Shabbat is prohibited or permitted.  In order to further their discussion, they use the phrase "he who hastens with his feet sins" (Proverbs 19:2), where simply walking can be a sin.  Interestingly, this phrase is also used by Rav Asi, whom Rami bar Chana reported saying that "it is prohibited for a man to force his wife in the (conjugal) mitzvah".  Of course, this refers to sexual intercourse which is unquestionably a mitzvah obliging us to procreate.  

Rav Yehoshua ben Levi tells us that "Anyone who forces his wife to do the mitzvah will have unworthy children."  Rav Ika bar Chinnana tells us that we learn this again from Proverbs 19:2: "... the soul without knowledge is not good".  Knowledge is understood as consent in this context, and thus when a woman does not consent to intercourse, the soul of the offspring will be scarred.  Or, the Gemara suggests, "he who hastens with his feet sins" refers to a man who has intercourse with his wife repeatedly.  So perhaps this is not about rape at all but about repeated intercourse, which could cause a woman pain or distress, and so it should be avoided.

But wait.  The Gemara reminds us of Rava's teaching: "(If a man) wants all of his children to be males: (he should) have intercourse repeatedly".  But this may not be difficult; Rava may have been speaking of a man who acts with his wife's consent.

Is it possible to get even more contentious?  Here we go: Rav Shmuel bar Nachmani tells us that Rabbi Yochanan said: "any woman who demands of her husband (this) mitzvah will have sons the likes of whom did not exist even in Moses' generation."  It is good for women to demand sex!  He quotes Deuteronomy 1:13 and 1:15, where we learn about the gathering of the heads of Moses' tribes.  Moses is unable to find men who possess understanding, which is even more important than wisdom.   Further, Leah's demanding that Jacob fulfill this mitzvah of sexual intercourse is said to result in their son Issachar, "men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred, and (everyone answered to them)." (1 Chronicles 12:33)

Of course, the Gemara is hesitant to accept that women should be rewarded (albeit with sons who are powerful) by demanding sex.  Rav Yitzchak bar Avdimi said that Eve was cursed with ten curses (Genesis 3:16).   He explains the verse, "' To the woman He said: I will greatly multiply': this refers to two drops of blood.  One is the blood of menstruation and the other is the blood of virginity... 'Your pain' regards raising children (and I love that he sees this as a painful obligation!).  'And your travail...this is the pain of pregnancy.... In sorrow you shall bring forth children'," obviously referring to labour.  

He goes on: "'And yet your desire shall be to your husband' teaches that the woman desires her husband... and he shall rule over you' teaches that the woman demands her husband in heart (too shy to  demand sex) but that the man demands verbally".  And then Rav Yitzchak bar Avdimi adds that "This is a good trait in women".  So he is suggesting that women are cursed, and our passive aggressive demands for sex are laudable.

The Gemara refines this as well, teaching that women demand sex not through action but through "making herself pleasing to her husband", and that this is a praiseworthy trait.  Fruther, the Gemara then challenges: are there really ten curses on Eve, or only seven?  Rav Dimi taught some of these curses. Women are cursed as we are "wrapped as mourners", as we cover our heads; we are "ostracized from all people and incarcerated within a prison", as we spend our time in our homes.

I love this, too.  The covering of women's bodies and the necessity of being in the home are not signs of our difference, our connectedness to G-d, our power in the home.  They are curses.

The Gemara wonders about the meaning of ostracision.  Perhaps this term refers not to staying at home but to the restriction on having more than one husband, unlike men.  

More curses follow: "She grows her hair long like Lilit (thought of as a demon in Talmudic writing); she sits... to urinate like an animal; and she serves as a pillow for her husband during sexual intercourse".  Why would other Sages not include these curses?  Perhaps they are not curses at all, but praises, suggests the Gemara.  Instead of curses, perhaps all of these are examples of modest behaviour.  Rabbi Chiyya agrees, comparing women with birds of the sky, who make us wiser (Job 35:11), with beasts of the earth (ibid), from whom we learn modesty as they urinate crouching, and the rooster, who enraptures the hen before mating (ibid).  

Rabbi Yochanan disagrees. In fact, we could learn modesty from cats, who cover their excrement; from ants, who do not steal from other ants; from the dove, who is faithful to its partner; from the rooster, who first appeases the hen and then mates with it.  And how does the rooster appease the hen?  Just like men in bars.  Rav Yehuda tells us that Rav said "(the rooster stretches as if to say) I will buy you a coat that will reach down to your feet... After mating, the rooster bends its head (as if to say) May the crest of this rooster fall of if he has (means) and does not buy you (a coat)".  Meaning that the rooster actually doesn't have any money, so he can't actually buy you the coat, but if he could, he would, and by the way thanks for the sex.

Of course, we are not given a satisfying, clear narrative regarding women's rights in their sexual relationships.  Instead we are offered another window into the minds of men who determined the lives of women for thousands of years.

I take great joy in watching the rabbis passionately justify their social structure, their personal power, their empathy for women and children, their understanding of Torah. They manipulate and bend these sacred, beautiful writings to mean what benefits them and their worldview.  Just as I am doing in this very moment.  It benefits me to read this work historically, anthropologically, sociologically, psychologically, and theologically.  It benefits me to learn from within a feminist and anti-oppressive framework.  I am not pretending to do anything different.  And we could draw a very straight line from the rabbis meta-cognitive processes to my own.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Eiruvin 99a, b

A funny and bizarre daf about bodily functions, most of which I would rather not read about.  That said, here is an overview.

The rabbis agree that it is not allowed to stand in a private domain and spit or urinate into the public domain. However, they ask, what if the opening of the male member actually is in the public domain?  Do we follow the urine from where it was "uprooted from the body" (ie. the bladder) or where it was emitted from the body?  The rabbis leave this question unresolved.

The rabbis then discuss spit, which I found particularly nauseating to read about.  They debate about when someone must dislodge the spittle from his mouth - before walking four cubits into the public domain? Immediately after it has been turned around and thus 'dislodged' from the mouth?  Far from a Master?

A new mishna introduces reaching one's head into the public domain to drink.  It also begins a discussion of winepresses.  I am not clear about the workings of a winepress; Koren often includes descriptions and diagrams that help me with my visualization of these utensils.  However, winepresses are still vague for me.  Another new mishna speaks about drinking from gutters or downspouts.  And then another mishna tells of drinking from cisterns of different heights.  Finally another short mishna speaks about a tree that hangs over.  How many cubits from the ground should the roots be to allow one to sit on them?

A very interesting daf, but not terribly intense.  My gag reflex surprised me when reading about the details of spittle! 

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Eiruvin 97a, b

The rabbis begin today's daf with more discussion about tefilin.  They are determining how and when one can carry tefilin that have been found outside of the Shabbat boundary.  They understand that new tefilin cannot be carried, but why?  The rabbis speak about differences between new and used tefilin: new tefilin may not have been examined, may or may not be knotted, may or may not be wrapped and/or in bundles, may or may not be in pairs or alone, may or may not be dangerous to carry (for different reasons), may or may not be found close to the end of Shabbat, and more.  

In daf b, the rabbis set their minds to the differences between carrying tefilin and other objects from outside of the Shabbat boundary.  They speak about the person-to-person method, where items are passed through many hands while no one carries further than four cubits.  The rabbis compare carrying tefilin to carrying a newborn baby, a vessel containing a permitted amount of food, and a barrel of water.  They discuss the health needs of a baby briefly.  They then discuss the notion of water as an object.

Water is thought of as having no substance.  If it has no substance, then we are permitted to carry more than a prescribed amount of water outside Shabbat boundaries.  The barrel is secondary to the water, as the water is the object of importance being carried.  Thus the barrel is nullified relative to the water (Rava).

In their discussion of carrying food in a vessel, the rabbis tell us that the vessel is also nullified as it is secondary to the food that it carries (any amount of food less than the amount allowed for carrying on Shabbat).    Adding some humour (in my opinion) to the conversation, the rabbis explain that carrying a person in a bed is allowed on Shabbat.  Why? Because the bed is secondary to the person lying in the bed.  Furthermore, it is permitted to carry a person on Shabbat because a person can exert effort and share the load of carrying him/herself.  So even if a person is on a bed and thus cannot share the load of carrying, the bed is considered secondary to the person and the person is considered to have the capacity to make a physical contribution, thus carrying a person in a bed is allowed on Shabbat.  Oy!

A new mishna is introduced at the end of daf b.  It begins a conversation about one end of a scroll that has fallen from a window.  Is it permitted to rewind the scroll, whether or not the scroll has stretched ten handbreadths from the ground?  The rabbis suggest that the scroll should be turned upside down if it is left out with respect for the sanctity of the writing.

I wonder why some topics caught the interest of the rabbis at different points in time.  Why did the conversation about carrying a newborn last only a few short lines here while it was given more consideration in an earlier daf?  Will it come up again in something seemingly unrelated?  

I suppose that is the point.  In Talmud, all is connected with everything.  It spins around and around on itself, in time and in topic, where one must know what will be said and what was already said to understand what is being said.  It feels clear to me that learning Talmud is learning for a lifetime.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Eiruvin 96a, b

Just when I have almost given up on finding hidden treasures in Eiruvin, I read daf 95.

We begin where we left off, in a discussion about tefilin.  In figuring out who should carry in tefilin found outside of Shabbat boundaries on Shabbat, the rabbis must discuss intention.  Intention has different implications when regarding positive commandments and negative commandments; time-bound mitzvot and obligations not bound by time.  

We learn that circumcision, for example, is a positive, time-bound mitzvah.  Intentionally leaving oneself uncircumsized is prohibited and the person in question will be punished (beyond being circumsized, of course, which is not actually considered to be a punishment but the entering of a covenant).  If one unintentionally leaves himself uncircumsized, he is not liable to bring a sin-offering as it is not a prohibition.

The rabbis wonder about whether or not tefilin should be worn at night.  They consider whether we have been instructed to observe this mitzvah only during the day, based on scripture.  They debate about whether we are allowed to don tefilin on Shabbat and Festivals, or whether tefilin are only to be worn during weekdays.  And then, suddenly, we are told about Michal, the daughter of Kushi.

Michal in fact may have been the daughter of Saul.  Although her story is not based in scripture but is rabbinical in origin, the rabbis tell that she donned tefilin and the Sages did not object.  This would prove that tefilin is a positive and not a time-bound mitzvah, as women are obligated to perform all mitzvot that are not time-bound.  

They mention Jonah's wife, who travelled on the Festival pilgrimage. There is some confusion about whether or not this was allowed; if she was turned back, that may have been because she was not obligated to perform the mitzvah of pilgrimage for a totally separate reason (having to do with her place of residence).  However, the rabbis tell us that both of these women performed non-time bound, positive mitzvot.

The rabbis move into a conversation about whether or not a woman is obligated to place her hands on the head of a sacrificial animal.  We are not allowed to add to a mitzvah nor to detract from it.  If women are not required to perform this particular mitzvah, the rabbis argue that we should not be allowed to move toward performance, even if our intention is to perform rather than to fulfil the mitzvah.

Finally, in a similar vein, the rabbis discuss whether or not children are allowed to blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashana.  If they are of educational age (3 years) but not over 6 years of age, they are allowed to blow the shofar for this prepares them for fulfilling that mitzvah in the future.  However, girls of that age should not be allowed to practice blowing the shofar, as we don't want girls to prepare for a mitzvah that they should not fulfill.

The daf ends with discussion about fabric/thread for a tallit.  Pre-dyed fabric is not acceptable, for we must supervise the dying process.  This argument is compared with found tefilin which may or may not be amulets in the shape of tefilin.

The casual discussion of women's rights and obligations is startling.  It seems that the rabbis had significant debates regarding whether or not women are obligated to fulfil/perform certain mitzvot.  I can't help but wonder how much of their rulings were founded on practicality.  If they decided that a woman was obligated to don tefilin, she would take longer with her prayer and be less available to the family in busy morning hours. And what implication might that have on women's participation in other religious rituals?  I wonder if the logic of the rabbis was influenced by very human, very practical needs, and not on the words of scripture which always are open for interpretation.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Eiruvin 95a, b

Today we end Perek IX and move into Perek X, the last of Eiruvin.   At the start of 95a, we are treated to a wonderful examination of reasoning.  Rav and Shmuel are arguing.  The rabbis use that argument to better understand a related argument between Abaye and Rava.  From there, Rabbi Yosei and Rav Sheshet discuss implications of the argument.  And then more rabbis jump in.  The argument itself is not the conversation of note in this first Gemara of daf 95a.  Of concern is how the rabbis use the logic of others (and their own) to better understand the meanings of Mishnayot.  

We are reminded that we are only allowed to establish a eiruv to join courtyards with a person's knowledge if that eiruv is to that person's disadvantage.  If a person will benefit from the eiruv, it is not necessary that s/he knows about its establishment. 

In Perek X, we begin with a mishna regarding found tefilin outside of Shabbat boundaries on Shabbat.  The rabbis are interested in whether or not those tefilin should be carried back into the Shabbat boundaries.  So many different considerations: whether they should be left and covered, whether they are new (and possibly phoney) or used (and thus certainly holy), whether they should be carried two at a time while worn as usual - and when that should happen - as Shabbat may or may not be a day where we should wear tefilin, how far they can be carried (4 cubits) and thus how to hand them off from person to person until within the Shabbat boundaries, what to do when tefilin are outlawed, and on and on.  The mishna seems simple enough - carry them back, two at a time.  But the gemara is the opposite of simple...

Gemara reminds me of how I think, how many of my friends think.  We don't state a fact and move on.  We think a thought, and then question around and around, applying possible applications and different scenarios to the original thought.  That first thought might change over time due to the insights found.  Is this a "Jewish" way of thinking? or is this simply how people think?  Either way, the gemara is fabulous reading, even when it is discussing an issue that is 'boring' to me.  I read thoughts; very human, very familiar.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Eiruvin 94a, b

We begin with a story about Rav and Shmuel.  They are sitting in a courtyard on Shabbat when the wall between two courtyards falls.  Shmuel tells residents to hang a cloak at the edges to secure the partition.  Rav turns his face away, demonstrating his displeasure/disagreement with Shmuel's ruling without countering the Sage in 'Shmuel's place' (where Shmuel holds authority).  Shmuel then jokes, suggesting that Rav use his belt to secure the cloak if he is unhappy with the cloak being placed there.  

Shmuel ruled earlier that a partition need not be repaired in such circumstances as the principal of lavud, connecting, and the principal of "carrying to the base of the partition", mtaltel ad ikir mchitza.  The Gemara suggests that Shmuel asked to have the cloak placed because of privacy concerns alone.  If the partition was in place before the start of Shabbat, Shmuel believes that carrying can continue throughout that Shabbat. Thus it was permitted to carry and place or "build" with the cloak after the partition had fallen during Shabbat.  The rabbis pick up on this  issue in a mishna at the end of 94a.

A new mishna is introduced regarding a courtyard that is breached into the public domain.  The rabbis discuss whether the resulting area is a karmelit or a public doman, each with its own implications regarding carrying.  As stated earlier, another mishna suggests that breaches in sides and partitions post/beam placement affect future Shabbatot.  They raise a challenging question.  According with a tradition connected with chazakah, we are obligated to continue a practice, a tradition, a rule once it has been established.  Thus we will have established a new tradition regarding carrying on Shabbat when we allow carrying to continue though the partition is unfit.  Will this carry over into future Shabbatot?

Daf b focuses on the notion of "carrying to the base of the partition", m'taltel ad ikir mechitza.  The rabbis look at homes where walls are breached in different ways, each posing a difficulty regarding boundaries between the private and other domains.  They look at the types of breaches and the types of roofs that might or might not allow for "carrying to the base of the partition" (where the roof can be imagined to extend down to the ground from the edges to the ground, essentially correcting the breach).

More interesting to me than these technical conversations was the story regarding Rav and Shmuel at the start of today's daf.  It seems that these two Sages disagreed on a number of issues.  Yet we learn that they are sitting together, assumedly enjoying their Shabbat menucha, on their one day "off".  I wonder whether we may have lost the ability to sit together and disagree - respectfully - as a pursuit of leisure.  I hope to understand more about the relationships between these and other personalities as I continue to learn.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Eiruvin 93a, b

The rabbis continue their conversation about adjoining or attached courtyards.  Today they consider the possibility of a courtyard that ends at an embankment.  How tall would the partition have to be when rising up or reaching down to its adjacent courtyard?  Generally speaking, a partition must be 10 handbreadths high.  The rabbis eventually agree that a five handbreadth embankment (or natural partition) would only require five additional handbreadths of partition.

This conversation shifts into the halacha regarding the mixing of crops. Often discussions of eiruvin collide with conversations regarding crops, as the laws have some similarities.  The rabbis discuss how partitions might work when separating one courtyard used for 'growing' from another.  How many cubits of unsown land are required to separate one crop from another?  What if one wished to grow a crop within another crop -- how much distance is necessary for the crops to be permitted?  Because the prohibition of mixing crops is a Torah law, the rabbis are more stringent regarding its interpretation.  With eiruvin, which are based on rabbinic law, leniencies are allowed and encouraged quite frequently.

At the end of the daf, the rabbis discuss implications of changes occurring on or before Shabbat.  This questions arises often in Eiruvin.  "If all is kosher (regarding eiruvin and permission to carry) before Shabbat but then becomes not-kosher during Shabbat, are we allowed to continue carrying across domains?"  and "If something becomes not-kosher just moments before erev Shabbat, are we allowed to begin carrying across domains?"  The rabbis are thoughtful about these circumstances, and efforts seem to be made toward leniency.

This overview of today's daf is a gross simplification of the rabbis' discussions.  I have found myself bogged down with the intricacies of eiruvin, and I am working toward grasping just the basic tenants.  I am unclear as to why the rabbis continue with these conversations at this point in eiruvin.  Over the past two dapim, I wondered whether we were beginning to trend toward more inclusive eiruvin, similar to those used today.  I could be wrong, but I do not believe that it is necessary to create many different eiruvin for different 'courtyards' in modern times.  Again, I may be wrong.  I had hoped that I would be reading more about collective efforts to create eiruvin across adjacent courtyards, cities, fields... well, not today.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Eiruvin 92a, b

92a begins with a question about whether or not Rabbi Yochanan actually agrees with Rabbi Shimon's assertion; earlier, Rabbi Yochanan told us that a halacha was in accordance with an unattributed mischna in another comparable circumstance.  Rather than focus on the details of this conversation, which I find somewhat difficult and complicated to pick apart, I would prefer to discuss the conventions implied by this conversation.  

A baraita is commonly used to elucidate the meaning of a mishna.  However, a mishna is not required to accord with a baraita.  There is a strict code of heirarchy when it comes to the creation of meaning around sacred texts.  Opinions count, but not just anyone's opinions.  Instead, we follow a system that helps us to order our opinion.

Even today, some peoples' ideas matter more than others.  The words of learned rabbis who already have yichus are taken as greatly important.  On the other hand, the words of a girl - any girl - would be thought of as insignificant in comparison.  Although there are benefits to maintaining this heirarchy of thought, it is intriguing to consider what it would mean to Judaism if we were to pull away from these strictures and hear the voices of everyone.  This is being done in Reconstructionist and some Reform communities.  But how would this turn-around in practice and philosophy affect orthodox life?

Our daf continues with a new Mishna comparing small courtyards and/or roofs with large courtyards and/or roofs. In particular, the rabbis speak about courtyards and roofs that are adjacent to each other.  They tell us that a smaller courtyard/roof is thought to be subsumed into a larger courtyard/roof.  We are provided with a number of examples to prove the point.

I find this particular learning quite interesting, and I am glad to have the opportunity to know this halacha.  However, I wonder why the rabbis felt it so important to discuss these small details to such a great degree.  Was this simply a pedagogical approach -- share the conversation to help the student realize for him/herself what is the next step?  Was this a grand attempt at eternal life through saving unnecessary conversations?  Or, as many believe, was this a tool used by the orthodox to best understand each and every expectation?

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Eiruvin 90a, b

Ninety dapim of conversation about eiruvin!  

Today's daf was shorter than usual.  The rabbis ask questions about a portico, a roof and a ruin - how do these strutures differ in their status as domains, where they might be located, in how far and what can be carried, etc. etc.  When different rabbis hold slightly different views regarding the status of one of these structures, it changes their reasoned halachic response.  In particular, Rav and Shmuel disagree regarding a number of issues today.

In one conversation, Rav Chiyah Bar Yosef asks Shmuel about Shmuel's disagreement with Rav.  Shmuel says  that "the halacha is in accordance with Rav's opinion" as Rav's reasoning is more convincing.  Steinsaltz offers us a small note to help contextualize this exchange.  

I find the lack of ego in Shmuel's response fascinating.  It seems that rabbis would often agree that the halacha should go against their own opinions as other rabbinical arguments were more convincing.  It is hard to imagine that happening regularly today - whether that might be in religious settings, in politics, or in families.  We seem to hold our opinions dear, as if they were part of ourselves and our identities.  The thought that reasoning might be more important than opinion is challenging. It feels as if we could be "giving something up".  As though defensiveness were useful.

The rabbis move on to discuss ships and boats again.  It seems that my lack of clarity regarding certain halachic decisions is shared.  As well, the rabbis raise a new concern: carrying in the underside of an overturned boat.  Anything can be made into a residence!  And thus anything might require rules regarding Shabbat observance.

One other curiosity - the idea of a ruin as a residence.  I had assumed that a ruin was, by definition, a spoiled home or other collection of unused materials.  Today the rabbis speak about the possibility of using a ruin as a residence (but not a portico, which is a roofed structure without walls). I can imagine someone using a portico as a residence just as easily as using a ruin as a residence. So obviously I am missing contextual information that would explain why they are so different as potential sites of residence.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Eiruvin 89a, b

We begin a new perek with daf 89.  Focusing on rooftops, today's daf opens up questions regarding architecture, community structure, leisure, and other ideas. 

The rabbis debate about whether or not an eiruv is required between rooftops.  They consider the heights of the rooftops, their ownership, their relative size, their use, and whether or not they are enclosed.  Some rabbis believe that most of these considerations are unnecessary; as long as the rooftops are not greater than 10 handbreadths higher/lower than the other, they are already connected (R. Meir).  I am imagining that this is due to the concept of lavud, but that is just a guess.  Other rabbis lean toward more stringent interpretations.

What I find most interesting is the idea that people would be carrying things from one rooftop to another at all.  And one note suggests that there might be residents upon the rooftops.  Were people living or spending time on their rooftops?  Was this leisure time, or sleep time, or work time?  Would an entire family spend time together on the rooftops or congregation be determined by sex?  Was the rooftop a part of the home; an extra room, or was it simply a place to carry things from one part of town to another?

Answering these questions would help me better understand the context within which our rabbis have been arguing.  If, for example, people slept on the roof at night - husbands and wives together - might that change the rabbis' understandings of the night sky and astrological signs? Or, perhaps, would they have different concerns regarding bathing, or the proximity of dangerous animals, or the closeness of neighbours who were also sleeping on the roof?  All of the circumstances of our lives inform all other parts of our lives.  The rabbis were not exempt from this rule.  Knowing more about the practicality of their lives helps me to understand the reasoning behind their opinions and assertions.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Eiruvin 88a, b

I was relieved to read that Eiruvin is considered to be a difficult masechet.  But I am certain that I will be encountering many more painfully elusive dapim as this learning continues.  Somehow I will have to find a way to put my mind to the material.

Needless to say, today offered up another challenging daf for me.  It seems that the rabbis are intent on determining exactly how we are to gather and dispose of water with regard to balconies, ditches and gutters.  I struggle with the measurements, the basic rules (Is sprinkling water on dusty floors permitted during Shabbat?), the lines of argument and the players involved.

A couple of points stood out for me today, both of them regarding historical and sociological perspectives.  First, waste water.  Were they speaking of sewage, or of water that had been used for cleaning and was ready to be discarded?  Who did the work of collecting and disposing of that water?  How clean were the courtyards that are continually discussed?  Why was run-off water such an issue compared with water that would be absorbed into the ground?  Who stood to benefit from the systems for water use as they are described?

I imagine that all water used in the home was under the watch of women.  How did the water disposal system affect their lives?  I wonder how much Torah conversation was prompted by women telling their rabbi husbands about problems in the home.  

Another issue that jumped out at me today was a conversation in 88b on gutters, rainwater, and the different seasons.  It would seem that there was a pronounced rainy season in Babylonia at the time of these conversations.  Muddy, overflowing courtyards, gutters filled with rainwater - the rabbis suggest scenarios that would force people to adjust their daily routines and practices.  Did they have the equivalent of rainboots?  Did they take off shoes at the door of their homes?  It would seem that they had potentially dusty floors of dirt.  Were women responsible for keeping the dust down?  How was that work done, beyond sprinking water?  Was a muddy inside floor acceptable?

If the rainy season was a given, then people must have made changes in their clothing, their footwear, their schedules, their intake of wheat or other foods dependent on dry fields... and so on.  Compared to today's standard of cleanliness, how did our ancestors fare?

It might seem that I am focusing on housework.  In fact, the topic interests me greatly.  How do tasks get divided in a given household?  Who carries ultimate responsibility? In my own home, I have never been particularly skilled at cleaning or neatening.  What would have been the impact of my behaviour in the times of the Talmud?  Today's daf did open that question for me.